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Home: The Quest to Belong by Jo Swinney 

A persuasive, thought-provoking and deeply personal memoir exploring the idea of home

Jo Swinney HomeHome: The Quest to Belong
By Jo Swinney
ISBN: 978-1-473-64865-4
Reviewed by David Stuckey

'Oh Auntie Em … there’s no place like home!' 

Judy Garland may have confessed that thought in a heartfelt cry at the end of The Wizard of Oz - and, to many folk, this simple statement still rings true. But it is only part of the story. We glibly say “Home is where the heart is” without really giving it much thought, but to Jo Swinney it’s not just something we say automatically. It echoes a desire to belong – in a marriage, in a family, in a community, in worship.

A similar epiphany hit me when I left home many years ago to seek fame and fortune in the wider world. Being an only child made it all the harder, especially for mum. Pressure was put on me - not by her, but by well-meaning relatives telling me in no uncertain terms that “My place was at home”. This intensified after my dad died, but in the fullness of time my wife and I made a home of our own many miles from my home town, and we also had a family of our own, which mum could also enjoy when she came to stay.  So family life is not a fixture, it’s a progression and each generation adds its own embellishment, and this is topped by God’s own rewards to those who are faithful.

Our children have now married and moved on to pastures new, yet they still come ‘home’ to see us, to stay with us, and they bring their own children with them. It’s all part of an ongoing saga. Home is more than an address - it is familiarity, it brings comfort, it is where God has placed us to serve him and to grow and enjoy our own family in his good time.

So why are we made to feel so guilty when we leave home in search of our own identity, to make our own mark in the world? In a dozen pertinent and persuasive chapters Jo looks at home from several perspectives – from culture, familiarity, community, marriage.

But then, as the old country song reminds us 'This world is not my home, I’m just a-passing through …' Jo’s wanderings through the modern landscape that is home life are familiar and filtered through her own experiences in Europe, Africa and North America, but her words take us beyond that to provide down-to-earth spiritual comfort and guidance.

Written before the American presidential election, Jo looks with scepticism and concern over the rising tide of nationalism, not only in the States but in the wider world. 'I can’t help thinking humanity should trump nationality every time,' she suggests. 'We must hold our earthly citizenship lightly, because our first allegiance is not to any human authority but to God.'

Everyone longs for a place where they can be themselves, offer a secure and loving haven for their children and grand-children. Jo’s prose is full of nuggets of nostalgia and advice for a truly Christian foundation for family life, and in so doing she can be said to have discovered a tangible rock for others to cling to in this restless world. 

This is a persuasive and deeply personal memoir, thought-provoking in more than one sense, and truthfully true to life. 

David Stuckey is a journalist and member of Maghull Baptist Church

Baptist Times, 08/12/2017
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